Controversial Pro-Trump Group Warns Members to Avoid Election Day Meddling

PHOTO: Early voters use electronic ballot casting machines at the Franklin County Board of Elections, Nov. 7, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio.John Minchillo/AP Photo
Early voters use electronic ballot casting machines at the Franklin County Board of Elections, Nov. 7, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio.

Stop the Steal, a controversial political group affiliated with Trump backer Roger Stone and the target of active Democratic lawsuits, has issued fresh guidance ahead of Election Day to a network of volunteer poll monitors, in an apparent effort to avoid running afoul of voting rights laws.

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For weeks, the group has used incendiary rhetoric to motivate members to turn up at contested areas tomorrow to participate in a survey of voters leaving polling places. But after Democrats sued the group for alleged conspiracy to intimidate minority voters, Stop the Steal is now warning poll monitors against speaking to voters before ballots are cast, entering polling places, or wearing displays that promote a candidate.

Stop the Steal and Stone have come under intense scrutiny recently after attorneys for Democratic plaintiffs filed several lawsuits against them, along with the Trump campaign and various Republican state parties. Democrats have accused the defendants of conspiring to interfere with the votes of racial minorities in violation of longstanding civil rights laws dating to the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era through the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In court filings, Democrats argue Stop the Steal’s exit polling operation serves no legitimate purpose, but is merely a pretext for harassing and intimidating likely Democratic voters of color. They say the ruse goes hand-in-hand with Donald Trump's heated, racially-tinged accusations of vote-rigging and his calls for supporters to monitor voting in “certain areas,” which Democrats argue is code for minority communities.

Stop the Steal maintains its mission is to ensure voting integrity by gathering exit poll data to compare to voting machine results in heavily-contested areas. Attorneys for the group argue its right to conduct an exit poll -- even one that fails to meet rigorous scientific standards -- is protected under the First Amendment.

But in a sworn affidavit to a Nevada federal court yesterday, Stone promised that Stop the Steal would issue guidance to its volunteers warning against certain conduct that could interfere with voters at polling places, and a list of rules Stone submitted to the court were later posted to stopthesteal.org.

The tone of new guidance, with its emphasis on sober self-restraint, starkly contrasts with other sections of Stop the Steal’s website featuring dire, urgent references to volunteers as “Vote Protectors” whose actions “will evermore determine whether the future generations of America continue to live a life of freedom.”

“Your help is needed, it is respected, and it is appreciated,” reads a message on the “About” section of Stop the Steal’s website. “With this movement, you will one day be able to tell your grandchildren about what you did to help SAVE AMERICA!!!”

Attorneys for the Democratic plaintiffs, and Stop the Steal and Stone were not immediately available for comment.

For his part, Stone has claimed in court filings to be a volunteer at Stop the Steal, not the group’s founder or leader. In his affidavit filed yesterday he vowed to personally comply with voting rights laws.

"I will under no circumstances be part of any effort, now or at any time in the future to violate the civil rights of any voter,” Stone's affidavit reads. “I will not target voters based on their race."

Bradley Schrager, an attorney for the plaintiffs said: "The problem is that STS has no manner of controlling or even monitoring its volunteers' conduct, and no assurance that this "guidance" will even be received by its people, much less followed."

The following are the rules Stone submitted to the Nevada federal court that were later posted to stopthesteal.org:

You must not:

1. Speak (or encourage anyone else to speak ) to any voter before he goes into a polling place, about ANYTHING, or who appears to be in line to vote or headed into a polling place.

2. Speak to ANYONE within 100 feet of the entrance to any polling place

3. Go inside a polling location for any reason other than to vote yourself, and when voting yourself and inside a polling place say or do anything not directly related to casting your own vote

4. Record by audio or video or any other method of sound or video reproduction the comments of anyone who has voted without that person’s permission

5. Wear or display any badge, button, or clothing that promotes any political candidate or party

6. Photograph the conduct of voting at a polling place or record the conduct of voting, or of any voter in line to vote (no matter how far distant from a polling place) or who appears to be headed into a polling place to vote or who is within 100 feet of a polling place even if that person has already voted

7. Without regard to distance from a polling place, ask any person who has not yet voted their name, address or political affiliation or how that voter plans to mark his or her ballot

8. It is our goal to conduct a neutral, scientifically-based and methodically sound exit poll at certain targeted precincts for the purpose of preparing the exit poll actual